The process of selecting a speaker is the most critical factor in how the Texas House operates because the speaker has concentrated power and selects committee chairmen, who can help ease or slow the passage of legislation.
The 2011 House Speaker's race began in earnest on the day after the Nov. 2, 2010, general election, in which House Republicans gained dozens of seats, giving them a nearly two-thirds majority in the 2011 Legislature: 99 Republicans to 51 Democrats. Incumbent Republican House Speaker Joe Straus quickly began his campaign by putting out a list of more than 120 pledges of support from members on both sides of the aisle. (Only a simple majority of 76 votes is required to win the vote for speaker.)
But conservative groups, citing the Republicans' near plurality, pushed for more conservative speaker candidates. Reps. Ken Paxton, R-McKinney, and Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, emerged with promises they would choose more conservative chairmen to steer committees than Straus.
The 2011 race was the first in which grassroots groups were legally permitted to lobby and campaign in the race for speaker. Groups like the conservative Empower Texans entered the fray by encouraging Republican members to choose "a more conservative" speaker.